Sunday, December 21, 2014

Private aircraft owners fly higher than Directorate General Civil Aviation limits

Every week, Ammeet Agarwal soars above Mumbai, its ribbons of traffic, its rat race, its myriad laws, enjoying the niche pleasure of flying his own plane. Agarwal, president of Supreme aviation company, owns three planes and is accompanied by his brother, his cousins and other aircraft owners on his tours. Agarwal, 26, said: "We took a spin around the city a fortnight ago as we had maximum visibility that day. We usually fly out four times a month, and go to aerodromes around the state, maybe for a quick breakfast or lunch."

The youngest flyer is 24 and the eldest is 60. They are engineers, surgeons, real estate businessmen, among others. Prasad Bhat always wanted to fly as a child but didn't want to be a commercial pilot. By dint of owning a successful engineering company, he could realize his dreams in 2011. He joined hands with like-minded people who wanted to fly for pleasure, and they bought a plane together. A hobby plane costs around Rs80 lakh to 90 lakh.

Bhat, 52, said: "We struggled a lot with regulations and permissions but it came through. Today, we own two planes, a Cessna 172 and a Diamond DA40. We have gone up to Lakshadweep, Shimla and to southern airports. We mostly travel on Saturdays and Sundays. There is little awareness in India about the concept of private pilots who fly for fun." Bhat received a license from Carver aviation in Baramati, and flies on at least 150 days a year.

Pune-based Vishwas Bhise, who deals in real estate, piloted a glider in the '80s and has flown a plane since 2009. Bhise feels that there is a growing interest in hobby flying despite the tough regulations. "The DGCA (directorate general of civil aviation) has the same rules for commercial and private airplanes. They need be flexible as we're not doing it commercially. Some of their rules are not practical and they still don't understand the concept of hobby flying. There are so many unused aircraft and we can innovate if given an opportunity," said Bhise who co-owns a plane with Bhat.

The high-flying group feels their wings are being clipped by the authorities. The group shares a common sentiment of disapproval for the DGCA. "The Bombay Flying Club had to shift to Dhule because of the tight airspace of the city. If anyone wants a license they have to travel there or to Baramati to learn, which is impractical. Commercial pilots don't have jobs these days, and we have hired one for our plane to go to and fro from its base to Juhu airport," said Bhat.

Agarwal feels the same and believes that the civil aviation ministry is smothering the trend of private flying in India. "In Dallas, USA, where I got my pilot license, people have planes parked outside their houses and the city has 32 aerodomes. India has a bigger potential than the US, but 95% of the aviation bureaucracy is corrupt. Moreover, they have been assigned a low rating by the International Civil Aviation Organisation- which means we cannot even fly into Sri Lanka as Indian aircraft are not trusted there. There is a need for more connectivity to tier 2 and tier 3 cities and there is no commercial service between Surat and Mumbai. We have been to Shirdi in 30 minutes from Mumbai," said Agarwal who added that he has to pay official and unofficial fees at aerodromes if their group is travelling, and that private flying is heavily discouraged by government officials.


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